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A whistle stop tour through history: Celebrating 150 years of rail at Chingford and Highams Park stations

15 November 2023

Friday 17 November 2023 marks 150 years since the arrival of the railway in Chingford and Highams Park, connecting central London to the then Essex villages.

Local community groups, London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF) and employees from Arriva Rail London (ARL), who operate the London Overground on Transport for London’s behalf, will come together to celebrate this milestone anniversary at events held at the two stations over the weekend.

Charlotte Whitfield, Customer Experience Director at Arriva Rail London, said: “From the first steam train journeys to the environmentally friendly electric fleet we see today, these historical stations have witnessed the changing face of rail travel over the past 150 years. Whilst we are constantly looking forward to enhance the customer experience, it is important to also look back at the rich history of our stations and the pivotal role they have played in shaping the way people move around our city.

“Thank you to the Chingford and Highams Park communities for organising events which capture the history of the area and the impact of the rail on its growth.”

Saturday 18 November 2023, 2pm, Hale End Library

Hale End Library will host an afternoon of free talks on the history of the railway and the growth of Highams Park. There will be an exhibition of historic photographs and paintings by Highams Parkbased railway artist, John Wigston. The exhibition will run for two weeks. Booking via Eventbrite is essential.

Sunday 19 November 2023, 11am-4pm, Chingford station community hub

Love North Chingford Community Interest Company (LNC CIC) and The Chingford Historical Society have teamed up to showcase the history of the line, the evolution from steam to electric train engines and the stories of the people who worked at the station.

Visitors will have the chance to see model trains and a working model steam engine, as well as taking part in tours of the station and hearing more about its history. An RT type bus – part of the iconic fleet which served the Capital from 1939 to 1979 – will also be available to ride.

The recently-refurbished station basement will host film screenings, memorabilia displays and art model making activities for young children.

Further information can be found here.

Cllr Ahsan Khan, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Housing and Regeneration, said: “Waltham Forest Council is proud to support Chingford Historical Society’s 150-year railway celebrations. This community-led event is a wonderful opportunity for residents to learn more about the arrival of the railway to Chingford in 1873, celebrate its heritage, and visit the renovated Chingford Station Community Hub. Residents can also enjoy a limited-edition heritage trail booklet to discover the rich history of North Chingford.”

Sunday 19 November 2023, 11am-4pm, Highams Park station car park

The Highams Park Planning Group (HPPG) and the Highams Park Society have arranged a railway and transport-themed event, including:

  • Free rides for children on a train-themed roundabout.
  • Performances from the Stow Caledonian Pipe Band, Harmony E4 Choir and others.
  • Vintage street organ.
  • Model steam engines.

Visitors can truly immerse themselves in the history of Highams Park, with volunteers from local theatre groups in period costume on hand to answer questions. There will also be free local rides on RT-type buses every half an hour.

Further information on performance times and local food and drink vendors at the event is available here.

Gordon Turpin, Chair of the Highams Park Planning Group (HPPG), said: “We thought it was important to mark this 150th anniversary, as Highams Park did not exist as a town before the arrival of the railway and the town grew up around the station. The attractive late Victorian station building, along with the iconic signal box and level crossing, make up the heart of Highams Park and provide a distinctive townscape and character much loved by local people. We are looking forward to a weekend of talks and entertainment centred around the station to celebrate and showcase this special place. “We would like to thank the team at Arriva Rail London and the regeneration and library teams from London Borough of Waltham Forest for their support.”

History of Chingford station

A humble building was originally opened as Chingford station in 1873. The station was relocated five years later to its current location, offering grander facilities for passengers including a large ticket hall, buffet room, waiting rooms, porter’s room and station master’s office. These additions proved to be fit for a royal visit, with Queen Victoria making a rest stop in the station on a trip in 1882, in which she declared Epping Forest as open to the public. After serving as a route for those looking to escape from the city to Epping Forest in its early years, over time it became a busy commuter line for those working in the capital. The station was incorporated into the London Overground network in May 2015. Whilst the station has seen shifts in its customer base and operators, the building has remained virtually unchanged since its construction in 1878 and still displays many features signalling its Victorian heritage. Many of the facilities became redundant with changes to travel, meaning that areas of the station fell into disuse. Work by ARL on the unused areas began in 2021, totalling just under £30,000. The rooms were then handed over to LNC CIC to further renovate these areas in line with the community group’s plans. The group has converted the space into meeting rooms, a co-working area for remote workers and a podcast/Zoom room. The most recent transformation saw the basement converted from a damp, unused area into an atmospheric, multi-purpose space set up as an art gallery.

History of Highams Park station

Highams Park first opened as a wooden station named Hale End in 1873, with the surrounding area being not much more than a rural hamlet at the time and seeing little growth until the arrival of the British Xylonite factory in 1897. The station was redesigned at the turn of the century by William Neville Ashbee, the architect behind Liverpool Street station, and renamed Highams Park after the nearby manorial estate at the edge of Epping Forest. The same building stands today and is used daily by commuters heading into central London. Like Chingford, the station also became part of the London Overground network in 2015. What is thought to have once been the station’s parcel office was neglected over the years, regressing to a cluttered storage room. ARL dedicated a fund of over £30,000 to initial works on the space, before handing over to HPPG to manage further refurbishment. HPPG secured additional contributions of £10,000 from the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) ‘High Streets for All’ fund and £10,000 from Waltham Forest Council, as well as contributing a further £10,000 from HPPG’s own resources to facilitate the refurbishment. The Station Rooms at Highams Park are now available for hire at £6 per hour and are in regular use for all sorts of activities including ‘knit and natter’, first aid training, art classes, committee meetings, shared work space and much more.